What’s in a Hero?

Guest post by Sonia Lowman

Are you a by-stander or an up-stander? Can you stand up for what’s right, even when it’s not easy or popular? How do we, together, learn to respect differences and reach out to those in need?

These are the kinds of questions that we at the Lowell Milken Center (LMC) for Unsung Heroes explore with students every day. Why? Because we know that education has the power to break down walls of bias and create positive change in the world—and we believe that every one of us has the responsibility to take actions that improve the lives of others.

Using an innovative and academically rigorous project-based learning approach, LMC works with students and educators to celebrate ordinary people who have taken extraordinary actions that changed the world for the better, yet who remain largely unknown to the world. People like Irena Sendler, a Catholic social worker who day after day risked her life to save 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust. And people like Ken Reinhardt, who endured violence and bullying for his kindness towards the nine African-American students attempting to integrate his all-white Little Rock high school at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.

Such inspiring role models cut to the heart of character education. How should we talk about heroism as it relates to characteristics like courage, compassion and respect? What will encourage young people to reflect on the mark they leave on others and the legacy they want to leave behind?

To make a lasting impact on students, learning needs to be emotionally resonate and personally relevant. LMC’s Unsung Heroes projects, which reach K-12 students and cut across diverse academic disciplines, do just that. Students conduct primary research and interviews to develop an Unsung Hero’s story through an interactive process that engages social and emotional learning while cultivating critical-thinking, problem-solving and leadership skills. They then create ways to share the story, including student-driven plays, documentaries, art projects, websites and museum exhibits. This interdisciplinary and interactive discovery process equips students with invaluable 21st century academic and life skills, while giving them ownership over and passion for their own learning.

Ultimately, LMC’s Unsung Heroes projects teach respect and understanding by embracing diversity and strengthening the ties that bind humanity. Students learn about the world and their place in it, and discover their own responsibility and power to affect positive change—transforming into heroes themselves.

Over the next several months, we will be introducing two Unsung Heroes per month and sharing the ways in which their stories connect with the CHARACTER COUNTS! program’s Six Pillars of Character. We look forward to engaging your curiosity, igniting your imagination and ultimately inspiring you and the young people in your life to walk the hero’s path.

We’re in this together.

Sonia Lowman is Director of Communications & Partnerships at the Lowell Milken Center (LMC) for Unsung Heroes.